Graphic Cigarette-Label Warnings Work, Study Finds

TUESDAY, July 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette warning labels help convince smokers to quit, and the bigger the label, the better, a new study shows.

Even when smokers try to avoid seeing the labels, they are prompted to think about quitting, the researchers found.

"Warning labels vary widely from country to country but it's clear that once people see the labels, the same psychological and emotional processes are involved in making people consider quitting smoking," said study author Hua-Hie Yong, of the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia.

Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 smokers in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, and followed up with them a year later.

The results showed that small, text-only warning labels on cigarette packs in the United States made smokers think about the health risks they faced. Those who noticed the warnings on a regular basis were more likely to try to quit, the study authors noted.

Larger, more graphic warning labels on cigarette packs, such as those used in Australia, were more effective at getting smokers' attention and persuading them to attempt to quit, according to the study published online recently in the journal Health Psychology.

Among smokers who paid attention to warning labels, simply seeing them was enough to make them think about the health risks of smoking, and that made them less likely to light up a cigarette, the researchers said.

Smokers who didn't give much thought to the health risks of smoking were more likely to say that such risks were exaggerated, and were also more likely to say they enjoyed smoking too much to quit.

However, smokers who tried to avoid the warning labels by covering them up or keeping them out of sight still said they often thought about the health risks and about quitting, the study found.

"This just goes to prove the idea that the more one tries not to think of something, the more one tends to focus on it," Yong said in a journal news release.

The findings show that warning labels do have an effect on smokers, the researchers said. They called for larger and more graphic labels on cigarette packs, and said the labels should be accompanied by public education campaigns about the health risks of smoking.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

SOURCE: Health Psychology, news release, July 10, 2014